Billions of drachmas still flow in

Almost three years after the country adopted the euro, the Bank of Greece has been exchanging up to 25 million drachmas (73,000 euros) worth of banknotes into the new currency on a daily basis, an official said yesterday. Greece adopted the euro in January 2002 but the drachma ceased to be legal tender as of March 1, 2002, ending 170 years of continuous use as Greece’s national currency. At the time, the Bank of Greece said 90 percent of the estimated 2.9 trillion drachmas in circulation had been exchanged for euros. However, Greeks are still exchanging drachma notes for euros. «During 2004, we exchanged on average 25 million drachmas every day,» said Vassilis Alexandrakis, treasury director at the Bank of Greece. «But this amount only represents a small percentage of the total amount of drachmas that were in circulation until the end of 2001. Specifically, by November 2003, we had collected 96.5 percent of the drachmas. A year later, we reached 96.7 percent.» The bank estimates that between 50 and 70 billion drachmas (146 to 205 million euros) will never be returned. “They have either been destroyed by fire or wear and tear, they are abroad or have been buried,» said Alexandrakis. The notes brought back depend largely on their value, he added. «Only 1 percent of 50 drachma notes have been returned, compared to 99 percent of 10,000 drachma notes. Of course, 1 percent of 10,000 drachma notes have a higher value than 99 percent of 50 drachma notes,» said Alexandrakis. Most returns take place after holiday periods or festive seasons. «Many people go to their villages and while tidying up, have come across a sum of money. Many Greeks living abroad who had taken the drachmas with them or left some in their homes here, come back during these periods. Some people have told us that they have discovered money hidden away in the home of a dead relative,» said Alexandrakis. He added that the amounts taken daily to the Bank of Greece for exchange were decreasing and are expected to stop completely in a year or two. The central bank will officially stop exchanging drachma banknotes on March 1, 2012. It ceased accepting coins on March 1, 2004.